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From a very young age I knew that I would not qualify for sainthood. This was because from a very young age I became a killer, a cockroach killer. Whenever I spotted one I stamped on it with my shoe or smashed the day’s newspaper on its head. As all cockroach-killers know, the former can mess up your floor while the latter often leaves the creatures with its paws in the air and the possibility that it might take a deep breath, turn over and carry on its indestructible life.

For that is what makes these creatures special. They live forever, protected by their armour and an expression that dares you to take out your gun. If you look closely, you can even see it smile as it scurries away. It can survive a nuclear war, so what is a newspaper?

I don’t suffer from katsaridaphobia, which, as every schoolboy doesn’t know, is fear of cockroaches, but there’s something about the sighting of one that gets me all active. One moment I am sitting back thinking pleasant thoughts and wondering what’s for dinner and the next I am rushing about for a newspaper or magazine (like cops and buses, there’s never one around when you need it) or looking for my running shoes in order to do my thing. A cockroach has appeared, and there’s only one thing (OK, two) to be done.

One doesn’t normally admit to such behaviour, but I was recently reading a satire by Ian McEwan called ‘Cockroach’ about one which wakes up to find it has become the British Prime Minister (in a reversal of Kafka). Simultaneously I read about a pest control company in North Carolina which is offering two thousand dollars to homeowners to release 100 cockroaches into their homes to test out experimental pest control methods. Coackroaches are in the air, so to speak.

In school, we had to dissect one in biology class, and even after all the various operations like exposing its innards, cutting off its head, removing its armour, it sometimes managed to walk away as if sauntering for an ice cream. You’ve got to admire such nonchalance.

Yet despite such an amazing lifestyle, cockroaches unlike lambs or owls or dogs do not figure prominently in either children’s stories or adult morality tales. Many of the latter involve surviving the worst, yet the one creature that does it casually and without turning a hair is never featured in them. There is no cockroach mentioned in any of Shakespeare’s plays either.

In fact, the one time a cockroach appeared in Shakespeare was when I dropped The Complete Works on its head and it stuck to the book. No newspaper could be found.

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